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UK Disembarks Migrants as Precaution from Controversial Accommodation Barge

Bibby Stockholm
UK Home Office is moving the residents off the accommodation ship as a safety precaution (Bibby Marine file photo)

Published Aug 11, 2023 8:15 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK’s Home Office has suffered a new setback in its controversial plan to house migrants on an accommodation ship Bibby Stockholm confirming reports on Friday that everyone is being removed from the barge due to a potential health concern. They are calling it a temporary “precautionary measure,” while further testing is done to determine the depth of the problem.

According to the reports, the Home Office was notified that water samples tested at the beginning of the week have “shown levels of legionella bacteria, which require further investigation.” The bacteria can cause a dangerous lung infection when the water becomes aerosolized and inhaled. It was first classified in 1976 after people attending an American Legion conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania became ill, leading to the bacteria’s name and the resulting disease being named Legionnaires' disease.

UK government officials are emphasizing that it is a precaution as none of the 39 men who had been moved aboard the Bibby Stockholm earlier this week are currently ill. Media reports however are claiming that some of the men have reported sore throats or a cough. The government said everyone would be receiving a check from the onboard medical team and then would be moved to hotels.

The Bibby Stockholm only opened at the beginning of this week docked in Portland in Dorset. The government had announced the plan in April saying it would be a tool to lower its skyrocketing costs for housing the ever-growing number of asylum seekers crossing the English Channel. They said the ship, which was designed with accommodations for just over 200 people, would be used to house single adult males in what they termed basic, adequate accommodations. 

The vessel was dry-docked for preparations that included adding bunk beds and converting some of the common areas into dormitories. Critics say the increase in capacity and density of the vessel which now has beds for 500 was creating a health danger and safety concerns. The government however proceeded with the plan despite ongoing protests.

Critics and opposition groups were quick to cite today’s announcement as further proof that the accommodation ship should not be used to house the migrants. A minister from the opposition party called the situation “a complete and utter shambles, a catalog of catastrophe,” in a statement to the media.

The Home Office said it will conduct further testing to determine the scope of the problem and work with the operators to develop a remediation plan. 

This comes as the arrival of asylum seekers hit a new high on Thursday. Reports are that 755 channel crossings were recorded on August 10. Last year, around 46,000 migrants crossed the English Channel to the UK seeking asylum. The government this week announced a series of measures that it hopes will help to reduce the numbers and discourage people from attempting the dangerous trip.